NRC Proposes Rule Saying Spent Fuel Can Be Safely Stored Beyond Reactor's Life

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By Pat Ware  


Sept. 12 --The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a proposed rule that radioactive spent fuel can safely be stored 60 years beyond the licensed life for operation of a nuclear reactor.

The proposed rule, known as the waste confidence rule, also found it is feasible that a mined geologic repository for permanent storage of spent fuel will be available within 60 years following the licensed life of a reactor. The proposal is scheduled for publication in the Federal Register Sept. 13.

This is the second attempt by the NRC to update its waste confidence rule. After the previous effort at an update in 2010, the commission was sued by several states and an environmental group. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that NRC did not conduct a sufficiently thorough analysis of its rule and remanded it to the agency for further proceedings (43 ER 1551, 6/15/12).

The 2010 rule also found that spent fuel could be stored for 60 years after the life of a reactor. In developing the new proposal, the NRC prepared a draft generic environmental impact statement, which was released on Sept. 6.

Waste confidence has been NRC's generic determination regarding the safety and environmental impacts of storing spent fuel beyond the licensed life of a nuclear power plant.

Other elements of the proposed rule include a clarification that the generic determination applies to a license renewal for an independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI).

Finally, the proposed rule would make conforming amendments to the commission's 2013 findings on the environmental effects of renewing the license of a nuclear power plant to address issues related to the storage of spent nuclear fuel after a reactor's licensed life for operation and the off-site radiological effects of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste disposal.

Environmental Impact Statement

NRC's proposed rule would codify the results of analyses from the generic environmental statement in § 51.23 of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, upon which the agency's licensing proceedings and ISFSIs have historically relied to satisfy the agency's obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act regarding the environmental impacts of continued storage, NRC said.

If the proposed rule is adopted as a final one, the NEPA analyses for future reactor and spent-fuel storage facility licensing actions would not need to consider the environmental impacts of continued storage on a site-specific basis, NRC said.

Among the major changes of the proposed rule compared with the earlier one would be to clarify that license renewals for an ISFSI are included in the scope of a generic determination, NRC said.

NRC plans to hold 12 public meetings in October and November during a 75-day public comment period for the proposed environmental impact statement and proposed waste confidence rule (78 Fed. Reg. 54,789).

Comments, due Nov. 27, may be submitted at using Docket ID No. NRC-2012-0246.


To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Ware in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Sullivan at

The proposed rule is available at

The draft generic environmental impact statement is available at

The notice announcing the 12 public meetings is available at

For information about technical issues, contact Merri Horn of NRC at (301) 287-9167; or Timothy McCartin of NRC at (301) 287-9259;

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